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News briefs, part 1

Indian Police Halt Hindu Rally, Shut Down New Delhi

The Washington Post

NEW DELHI, India

Riot police arrested thousands of anti-government Hindu demonstrators and fired tear gas and rubber bullets on others Thursday in one of the toughest security crackdowns imposed on this city in recent years.

As a Hindu fundamentalist party tried to hold a massive rally in defiance of a government ban, police virtually shut down the capital, blocking roads leading into the city, turning sports stadiums into giant holding cells for thousands of arrested protesters and ringing major government buildings with razor-wire fences. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which seeks to transform the constitutionally secular India into an officially Hindu state, vowed to gather as many as 2.5 million people to demonstrate for elections to replace the government.

With the tight police controls and preventive arrests of many BJP supporters, though, the BJP assembled only a few thousand protesters at five sites throughout the city, with 7,000 at the largest rally. Police lobbed tear gas canisters at the crowds, fired rubber bullets and water cannons and charged at them with the long, bamboo sticks traditionally used by police in South Asia.

India has been wracked by riots between Hindus and Muslims for two and a half months, since Hindu militants, with BJP support, destroyed an historic Muslim mosque in December in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya. The government of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao ordered Thursday's heavy crackdown -- with an estimated 75,000 police and paramilitary officers deployed in the capital -- after having been accused of failing to act decisively enough to prevent the Ayodhya clash.

Police arrested senior BJP leaders as they encouraged followers to defy the ban on the rally. Party president Murli Manohar Joshi was hospitalized after being knocked to the ground by a police water cannon while leading about 300 marchers from the red stone Parliament building, and Lal Krishan Advani, leader of the BJP in Parliament, was arrested as he clambered onto the hood of a car to address a chanting crowd.

The demonstrations that eluded the police crackdown were largely peaceful, with only scattered instances of injuries despite the liberal use of tear gas and bamboo canes by police. Hundreds of protesters voluntarily piled into police buses, asking to be arrested when they learned their leaders had been arrested.

U.S., Russia Aim to Jump Start Stalled Mideast Peace Talks

Los Angeles Times

GENEVA

The United States and Russia announced Thursday that they will invite Israel and its Arab neighbors to a new round of peace talks in April, a move that appeared aimed at pressing the reluctant Palestinians to return to the talks.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev made the surprise announcement after Christopher reported to the Russians on the results of his week-long negotiating trip through the Middle East. The United States and Russia are co-sponsors of the peace talks, which began in 1991.

During his trip, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon all told Christopher that they want to restart the talks, which have been suspended since December.

"This is an historic moment," Christopher said. "I've been surprised by that. They think this may be a one-time opportunity. They all want to grasp the moment. It's in that context that this statement was made, rather than trying to force anyone's hand."

But Palestinian negotiators, who represent the Arab population under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said they were not yet ready to return to the talks. The Palestinians have demanded a freeze on negotiations unless Israel allows the return of 396 Palestinian militants deported to Lebanon in December.

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi expressed hope that "the remaining obstacles, really just the last few issues, can be removed" through further U.S. mediation. "But we are not there yet. We are still consulting, we still have ongoing discussions with the United States," she said.

Despite Christopher's denial that he was seeking to force anyone's hand by announcing a target for the resumption of the talks, he and Kozyrev were, in effect, giving the Palestinians an ultimatum: come back to the peace talks or watch them go ahead without you.

Weather

Small sprinkle of snow

By Yeh-Kai Tung
Staff Meterologist

The storm system currently over the midwest is going to come through our area Friday night into Saturday. However, the brunt of the storm will pass to the south of us, leaving us with just a few flurries.

Temperatures will warm up as the cold air mass recently over us moves on. Sunday looks to be partly sunny, with the disturbance moving out to sea.

Friday. Cloudy with snow flurries. Less windy than yesterday. East wind 5-10 mph (8-16 kph). High 29F (-2 C).

Friday night. Continued snow flurries, with heaviest precipitation during the evening hours. Winds shifting to the north at 10-15 mph (16-24 kph). Low 20F (-7C).

Saturday. Flurries ending in the morning. Clearing by evening. High 30F (-1C). Low 20F (-7C).

Sunday. Partly sunny. High 30F (-1C).